The big noise for me on Criterion's Lonesome Blu-Ray was not the main attraction, but the Broadway extra that finally gives us access to a historic 1929 musical that Universal, by their account, sunk a million into. For decades, Broadway was thought to have survived only in battered silent prints, but here it is talking and singing to archaic rhythm that so endears many to clompety-clomp revues done when sound was evolving. All I knew about Broadway was what William K. Everson had written in Huff Society notes and his Citadel book, The Detective In Film (it's since been covered admirably by Richard Barrios in definitive A Song In The Dark, his study of early musicals).
Broadway is crime-thrilling in addition to music-making, so pudding is thick and varied. You could say it was a picture with everything, opening in crazy quilt '29 when all-singing-dancing rivals were elbowing each other on and off White Way screens, too many in fact for even an eager public to absorb. Any big picture was a gamble for Universal, their engine run primarily on serials, westerns, action what-nots. To drop a million, or whatever it actually cost, the company would sweat from there to hopeful recovery of investment.
|Newspaper Ad for The Original Stage Play of Broadway|
"Cubistic shapes" dominated. There were twenty box seats with tables up and down walls continually assaulted by the roving camera. Many will say the crane and massive set it traversed was the whole show and sole point of modern interest, but Broadway's story and dialogue, admittedly languid at times, capture Prohibition flavor and high-life as lived just ahead of the Crash. There's enough slang here to generate a dictionary. Talk, dress, and manner among characters would have been stylized even then. Fast-pace New Yorkers really were a different breed of cat, especially to rurals who never experienced so much as a stop signal, and it was this fascination that allowed shows like Broadway to flourish.
Precode moralities are observed. A murder is committed and police excuse it. The cast isn't special to us, but patrons then knew Glenn Tryon from years doing comedy, and Merna Kennedy had been Chaplin's lead lady in The Circus. Evelyn Brent was surest bet for recognition, having come off similar-in-ways Underworld of a couple seasons back. Others in the cast were repeating stage roles, so were sure-footed (the play had sold tickets for nearly two years, plus more on the road). Gangster element is thick, though none claim individual notice as a later Robinson or Cagney would.
|Broadway Premieres at Broadway's Globe Theatre|
How Universal bally'ed Broadway at its own Broadway open is at least as interesting as the movie we're left with. Modern was a byword and selling focus. The Globe Theatre's lobby was jiggered to a deco polish. You could stand entranced by displays for as long as it took the show inside to unspool. Radio announcers were said to be working entrance areas for a first time in
Hitting hard at Gotham/Globe open gave Universal impetus to sell Broadway at highest terms for subsequent play, but though it lured multitudes off the street being celebrated, that didn't mean Podunk patronage would similarly respond. You could argue then that Broadway was done as much for prestige and urban recognition as dollars. Certainly it was pictures like this, Showboat, and upcoming All Quiet On The Western Front that made Universal a company to reckon with. Of relics surviving from transitional